Carroll names McKnight starter

Updated: September 1, 2009, 10:35 PM ET
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Even with injuries piling up and nervous anticipation building around his freshman quarterback, Southern California coach Pete Carroll only seems to get more excited about the season ahead.

Not even that significant injury list, an academic disappointment and a rookie passer can discourage the perpetually optimistic Carroll, whose fourth-ranked Trojans open the season Saturday at the Coliseum against San Jose State.

"We feel very comfortable with the transitions we've made, the decisions we've made," Carroll said after bounding into his weekly news conference. "We're looking forward to getting off to a fast start."

Carroll created a bit of news by announcing his starting tailback Tuesday, naming Joe McKnight to the spot. The honor doesn't mean much, since the Trojans likely will play fellow tailbacks Stafon Johnson, Allen Bradford and C.J. Gable extensively.

Quarterback Matt Barkley will get most of the attention when he makes his first college appearance after winning the job in camp. Carroll remained effusive in praise of the 18-year-old entrusted with the offense in what seems like a high-risk move to most outside the program.

"Matt could not have accomplished more in the time he's been with the program," Carroll said. "He would have to be an exceptional kid to accomplish what he's had to accomplish. ... I don't see it as a gamble at all. I see it as a really good, solid decision."

While sophomore quarterback Aaron Corp is healthy enough to play after breaking his leg during camp, Carroll isn't certain he'll get on the field.

"The plan is to play the game and see what happens," Carroll said. "Aaron is a capable player. We feel good about him, and I'd love him to get some playing time."

The Trojans still have several injury woes that won't be repaired by the time San Jose State arrives.

Center Kristofer O'Dowd, widely considered among the nation's top handful of players at his position, is almost certainly out to give himself one more week to rest his dislocated kneecap. No. 2 receiver Ronald Johnson is out until next month at the earliest after breaking his collarbone in last weekend's mock game, while starting defensive tackle Averell Spicer hopes to play after injuring his ankle last month.

The Trojans' latest loss is starting cornerback Shareece Wright, who couldn't make the grades necessary to be eligible this fall. His absence pushes Josh Pinkard from safety to cornerback and puts Will Harris in the starting lineup, two moves that weaken USC's nickel package and depth.

Yet Carroll only sees another opportunity, pointing out sophomore Drew McAllister's chance to step up to a more prominent role and even suggesting freshman T.J. McDonald could see significant action. After a near-decade of outstanding recruiting, USC rarely lacks for depth at any position -- but that depth will be tested early.

The Trojans will get their first game experience in front of the Coliseum's big crowd Saturday, but so will the Spartans, who went 6-6 last year.

San Jose State coach Dick Tomey is deferential to USC's advantages in funding and talent, but he doesn't expect his team to be overpowered by the Los Angeles fans.

"I don't think that will be a big deal," Tomey said. "I really don't. We went to Nebraska last year, and it's a much more intimidating environment because it's like 90,000 or 95,000, and they are all there five hours before the game. They were just crazy.

"I think our guys will act like they belong. Now, whether we play like we belong will be another thing, because SC is a much better team than Nebraska."


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press